"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Fall

bean and ham soup . . .

It’s a fairly mild day in early October, warmer than it has been with the chilly rainy days we had last week. But the moisture has been great for the garden and the Montauk daisies are almost in full bloom.DSCN7159

These perennial plants are ubiquitous in Rockport, a town close to the ocean, and huge clumps of them can be seen all over town. They multiply and appear in the Fall in great profusion, a notable cousin to shasta daisies which bloom in the summertime. I bought some plants when we had a winter rental there and they are beginning to take hold in our garden this year.

Like the morning glories that we plant for their sky blue color which appear on the second floor deck on foggy mornings this time of year, these Montauk daisies 2Montauk daisies bloom after flowers have virtually disappeared from neighborhood yards altogether.

For some reason, I’ve been hankering for some bean soup that I saw advertised in a Vermont Country Store catalog that came in the mail yesterday. It boasted that its canned bean soup is still served in the Senate dining room. That’s U.S. Senate, I guess. I wonder if anyone is still eating anything there since there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on in the Senate these days. Anyhow, I decided to make my own bean and ham soup.

The recipes online called for boiling the beans, letting them sit (to make them less gassy) and to cook the beans with smoked ham hocks. When I looked at the package of smoked ham hocks in the grocery store, they looked rather gross with skin, bone, gristle and not much ham to speak of. They were almost black with 4-5 of them in a pack and I didn’t want to buy that many anyhow. So, for the same money, I picked up a thick slab of ham which I’ll cut in half and freeze the remainder to use in a batch of green pea soup later in the year.

The parboiled beans are now cooling on the stove. For this recipe, I will:

Cut the slab of ham into chunks and brown in unsalted butter

Take the ham out and saute a chopped vidalia onion in the ham/butter skillet along with a crushed clove of garlic

Add a couple of quarter-cut carrots and celery stalks with the onions

Tie together some sprigs of parsley and thyme from the herb pot on the back deck; add a bay leaf

Add back the beans and ham to the vegetables

Add 1/2 chicken stock and 1/2 spring water to cover; add a small can of stewed tomatoes

second simmering in the soup pot . . .

second simmering in the soup pot . . .

Cook low on simmer for a couple of hours or so; add more broth/water as needed (I stored the soup in the fridge overnight and then started it simmering again the following day, adding spring water to the soup)

I decided to incorporate the ham pieces into the pureed soup rather than taking them out. When the soup cooled, I spooned all of it into the Vitamix and turned it on low. Gradually increasing the speed, it suddenly took off and turned the whole pot of vegetables, beans and ham into a coarse puree.

I put it all into a saucepan and added another cup or so of chicken broth to lighten the soup consistency a bit. I heated it up on very low heat so as not to burn the soup on the bottom. It tasted delicious. To go along with the soup, I toasted some English muffins, spread with butter and grated gruyere cheese, broiling them until golden brown and bubbly on top.

pureed bean soup . . .

pureed bean soup . . .







dahlias! . . .

dahlia 1 dahlia 2 dahlia 3 dahlia 4 dahlia 5jpg dahlia 6 dahlia 7jpg dahlia 8There’s nothing as beautiful as seeing a bevy of dahlia blossoms in the beginning of October here on a New England Fall day! I went to the local farmers’ market this drizzly morning to buy eggs but the stand I usually buy them from said it was too cold for their hens to be laying!

It was slightly muddy, walking around the tents that were set up and I was getting ready to leave when I saw a booth with buckets of dahlia blossoms. Some had heads that were at least eight inches across! They were grown at a farm in Upton, MA. and after I selected three blooms, an Asian man who looked like a Zen priest wrapped them carefully in two layers of paper and handed the bouquet to me with a smile.

I’ve always loved the look of dahlias on a table–one of my daughters grew them and they always looked fabulous strewn in various bouquets around the house.

There’s also a house a few miles from mine here in town on a busy main thoroughfare that grows dahlias every year. And I don’t mean just grow them. Around the perimeter of the fence, there are five-foot high dahlia clumps with blossoms, spaced a few feet apart. There must be hundreds of them. I marvel at what it takes to grow them: to dig up the tubers and winter them over in the cellar with some mulch, then plant them each year, fertilize and stake them (that’s the laborious part) and then do it all over again every year. It’s certainly worth it but I’m not sure I have the patience although every year when I see the blossoms, I’m tempted to try them in my own garden. I do carry over amaryllis bulbs over the warmer months and they come back to bloom over the holidays after two months of a chilly/dry habitat.

Anyway, these three dahlia flowers were just a fraction of those at the market–but since we are enjoying them so much here on the kitchen table, I thought I’d post them for others to enjoy too.

Happy weekend!

Postscript: Just discovered the website for the flower farm in Upton, MA. where these dahlias were grown. It turns out to be a flower CSA farm–and they supply flowers to all sorts of florists and restaurants too.

Click on Fiveforks Farm and you can take a look too!


starters . . .

a group of morning glory seedlings

a group of morning glory seedlings

morning glory seedlings planted near the clematis

morning glory seedlings planted near the clematis

Spring has been optimal for growing this year: alternating sunny, dry breezy weather interspersed with showers and soaking rain, sometimes for a couple of days. I am often surprised why people object to rain when it is so important to the natural cycle of things. Our Sassafras trees have the most graceful leaves when they unfurl in May.
lush white and pink in the front triangle garden

lush white and pink in the front triangle garden

in front of the barn

in front of the barn

For at least a decade, we have had a planting ritual for “Heavenly Blue” morning glories right around Memorial Day. There’s a nursery in Framingham, about a half hour’s drive towards Boston that grows and sells morning glory seedlings that are about four inches high when I purchase them. The seedlings are not that easy to find and while I’ve tried growing them from a packet of seeds, they don’t seem to want to sprout for me. So I buy a flat of seedlings and place them in the shade under the rhododendron bush to keep cool until we have a chance to plant them. I cluster a four-pack together and plant them in the ground. Then G. measures out fresh twine from the decking above and anchors the string to a brick which nestles in the earth right next to the seedlings. As they grow, they wind themselves around the string and climb. This year, I planted clusters near the purple wisteria vine and the white wisteria vine in the front, thinking that by the time the morning glories bloom, the other flowers, roses and such would have gone by. One new place was near the clematis arbor (see photo above) where there is a wrought iron trellis that branches out in both directions under the stained glass window. I thought that they might take and clamber up the trellis to grace the house sometime in late Summer, early Fall.
"Before" planting wildflower seeds

“Before” planting wildflower seeds

Finally, there’s a very rocky, poor soil area in the front near the street where G. pulled up the weeds and crabgrass, brought some compost over from his mother’s house across the street and the guys put in a stone pathway, sprinkling a mixed assortment of Northeastern wildflower seeds throughout. Afterwards, it rained for about two days, sometimes a heavy downpour from Hurricane Andrea in the middle of the night. Then, the sun came out and for the last couple of days, it has been temperate, sunny and dry with a light breeze: perfect weather for sowing and growing!

All of this is just to belabor a little bit the plantings that we made last week.
What’s most fun is to see what comes up and how they flourish as the Summer and Fall gently roll by. Later, that is.

In the meantime, here are some photos of early roses and right-on-time peonies.

apricot roses by the barn

apricot roses by the barn

climbing roses

climbing roses

peonies along the driveway

peonies along the driveway

Note: to enlarge photos, click once; to magnify, click again.

‘autumn of our years’ . . .

I’ve been hearing lately that “40 is the new 30!”, “60 is the new 40!” We seem to be healthier and staying viable for (much) longer than our parents’ generation. What is the new 70, the “new 55?” or renegotiate at 80? Then there’s U.S. News and World Report’s special edition of “How to live to be 100”!! So when a comment for ‘Uncommon Hours’ talks about the ‘autumn of our years’ when the kids are grown and have left home, our parents have passed on and now we are free to live (finally) for ourselves, when is that exactly? And how long will it last before winter sets in?

Autumn is one of the most beautiful seasons of the year, especially in New England. In fact, it’s my personal favorite time–memories of getting ready for school to start, the beauty of leaves changing color in October, crisp morning air, picking apples and heating up cider with cinnamon and nutmeg. Winter doesn’t have to be cold and lonely either. At least, that’s not my plan.

I think of winter as one of my favorite times, having cozy breakfasts while the snow falls outside my window. Tea set out in the afternoon and maybe a cookie or two. Roasts in the oven with grilled vegetables, apple pie and ice cream for dessert. What I mean to say is that we may want to hold on to Autumn for awhile because we’re afraid what being older will mean, edging into the winter of our years. Every season has its virtues, so that one will too. It occurred to me that if we still have two seasons left, that’s still almost half of our lives to go, right?